Mercedes GLC Review
Mercedes is covering the entire SUV gambit, with the barely-an-SUV GLA, the large GLE and the enormous GLS. If you can keep up with the Mercedes naming conventions, you’ll know that leaves a medium-sized gap that, until a couple of years ago, hadn’t been filled. Keen to keep its customers away from rival cars, the GLC slots perfectly in the middle, ticking off yet another niche.
Select's rating score* - 3.6 / 5
The C-Class saloon is, arguably, the most important model in the Mercedes range, yet it’s SUV sales that are booming. The solution? Build an SUV around the C-Class base and offer the best of both worlds.
That’s exactly what Mercedes did back in 2016, turning up stylishly late to the SUV party but with a well-considered and attractive model. Three years later it went through a facelift, gaining some of the digital technology that Mercedes is foisting upon its range, and tidying up some of its wrinkles.
To appeal to all, there are several power options available, from a fuel-sipping 194hp diesel, emission-limiting plug-in hybrids, or thundering 510hp performance models.
In a world of hugely capable and appealing rivals, is the Mercedes approach the right one?
One thing stands out about the GLC, and it’s the fact that there are many of them. Not many sold, as such, but an array of engines, power sources and trim levels that should enable anybody to find the perfect car for them.
It starts with the body. Based around the C-Class (and therefore available as a saloon, if you’ve got some imagination) thE GLC offers a full SUV body or an SUV Coupe for those wanting a sportier presentation.
Under the bonnet, there’s a 2.0-litre engine, but it could be diesel, petrol, or even a plug-in hybrid that’s also available partnered with either a petrol or diesel engine. That covers all bases, from economical options and low emission options to performance and, with three trim levels, luxury choices.
There’s more; two AMG models provide either 390 or 510hp, offering supercar-rivalling acceleration and frankly ridiculous maximum speeds. If you need to transport a family, a dog and some furniture across a continent as quickly as possible, this might be the best option.
While the headline-grabbing Mercedes-AMG models might be the ones you lust after, the more mundane models are likely to be the cars you’ll be choosing from.
So, yes, the GLC 63 S and its 4.0-litre turbocharged V8 petrol engine might offer near indescribable performance, but it’s a niche model within a niche.
Most will opt for the GLC 220d, a model powered by a 2.0-litre diesel engine, or the GLC 300 with its 2.0-litre petrol unit. Performance from both is brisk, with the diesel hitting 62mph in 7.9 seconds compared to the petrol’s quicker 6.2 seconds, but both are more than capable of keeping up with, and seeing off, most other traffic on the road.
All models send the power through a nine-speed automatic gearbox that is smooth and refined, although hesitates at standstill - pulling out of a side road into a tight gap might require a little more commitment than you expect.
The petrol feels the most urgent, but neither feels like a rocketship - there’s around 2.5-tonnes of metal around you, making every model feel a little lethargic, especially on twistier roads. Every model gets ‘sports’ suspension,
Safe and secure is the order of the day, rather than exciting handling challenges, a fact that's backed up by the standard inclusion of four-wheel-drive.
Despite its utility vehicle pretensions, and the inclusion of 4x4 drive, the GLC is designed primarily for tarmac driving. A little light off-roading shouldn’t be beyond it, but a slightly muddy track or a bit of wet grass is probably as much as you should demand from it.
As with so many Mercedes cars, calculating running costs depends so much on what model you choose. It’s no surprise that the AMG models, with their fuel-thirsty powerful engines and heightened kerb appeal (read: attractive to thieves so heavy on insurance), will end up costing considerably more than a sensible plug-in hybrid option.
Monthly leasing costs range from less than £400 to knocking on the door of £1,000, while tax bills for company car drivers range from around £200 a month to more than £1,100 a month.
If we take the hot models out of the equation, it starts to look a little better. The 220d can manage up to 45.6mpg on average, at least officially. However, real-world economy isn’t far off that, with 500 or so miles of mixed motoring resulting in the trip computer reporting just over 40mpg.
The plug-in hybrid model will be the big money saver, though. The 300de is available to lease for just a little over the cost of the conventionally powered model and can return an official fuel economy figure of 156.9mpg. That ultimately depends on your driving patterns; you can cover around 20 miles on battery power alone (officially it’s up to 29 miles) before the diesel engine will kick in. If you’re relatively close to work for the commute, and able to pop to the shops or out to restaurants nearby, you’ll not touch a drop of fuel. Of course, there’s still the same 194hp engine to fall back on once the battery has been emptied, allowing you to cruise across continents without fear.
Low leasing costs, low company car tax bills, a marginally lower car tax bill, strong performance and cheap energy for the battery makes the 300de the best choice for those seeking to save a few pounds.
The GLC’s cabin is almost indistinguishable from the C-Class saloon, but that’s no bad thing. There’s a very digital-heavy focus but, outside of the screens, there's a traditional cabin layout that looks a million dollars.
Mercedes has (mostly) mastered blending high-tech goodies with traditional style, the GLC’s dashboard covered in black ash or dark oak wood that somehow works well with the 10.25-inch infotainment screen that dominates the centre stack.
All but the entry-level models receive a 12.3-inch digital instrument panel with selectable displays that, although it looks good, doesn't add anything over more traditional dials.
You sit high up on the GLC, atop plush sports seats with electric adjustment and plenty of leather, with good lumbar support and a widely adjustable steering wheel. The steeply raked windscreen pillars do limit visibility a little at junctions, but rear vision is fine and there’s a camera on every model to help reversing.
As with every Mercedes, the perception of quality is strong, with the plush seats, premium materials and classic design oozing class. Look a little closer, however, and you’ll find the metal switches are plastic, and that wood-covered centre console bends and flexes a little more than you might expect.
That 10.25-inch infotainment screen mounted high up in the centre of the dashboard looks pretty conventional, but hides the MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience) system.
Mercedes promises a level of artificial intelligence that can predict personal habits, adapting over time to offer automatic navigation for frequently driven routes, or tuning the radio to your favourite station on the way to work.
It favours voice control, with the wake-up phrase of ‘Hey Mercedes’ feeling less clunky than some rother voice control system - I’m looking at you, OK Google. Talking to the car allows you to set the navigation, adjust the temperature, make phone calls, or pretty much anything you’d be able to do by prodding the screen. It even understands conversational language, so turning the cabin temperature up can be done by simply saying “I feel cold.”
It’s not without flaws, and gets things wrong as often as it gets them right, but it’s a start on the path to usable, and safer, control of the various systems we now expect in our cars. Of course, for those that refuse to talk to computers, or those wanting to correct the mistakes MBUX has made, there are still touchscreen and touchpad controls available.
The GLC isn’t quite as big as it looks - it’s 11cm shorter than a Ford Mondeo - so you may be surprised at the room available inside.
Those in front will have no reason for complaint, with seemingly endless legroom, plenty of headroom and enough width to remain comfortable.
The rear seats are also spacious enough, although legroom will be tight for anybody taller than average. Also, the panoramic sunroof on the Premium Plus models really eats into the otherwise impressive headroom. Being four-wheel-drive, there’s a hefty transmission tunnel along the centre of the car, so any passenger in the middle seat will find themselves having to straddle that.
Head further back and you’ll find a boot that’s a good shape with seats that fold down to create an almost flat load bay. However, it’s not that large, taking just 550 litres of luggage - that’s 100 litres less than in a Volkswagen Passat estate - and extending to 1,600 litres when loaded to the roof with the seats down.
Euro NCAP tested the crashworthiness of the GLC back at its original launch, where it scored a full five-star safety rating. The tests are a little more demanding now, but the occupant protection ratings (95% for adults and 89% for children) are high enough to suggest an equally strong result today.
Mercedes has fitted plenty of kit to the GLC to keep you safe and sound, including automatic emergency braking that works at speeds of up to 65mph. Unusually, there’s a crosswind assist programme that detects sudden, strong gusts of wind and helps to keep the car in its lane. The car also constantly monitors the driver for fatigue, alerting you if things start to look a little bit sleepy.
However, it’s a disappointment that Mercedes has chosen to leave lane-keeping assist, blind spot assist, an instant automatic emergency stop system, adaptive cruise control, active speed adjustment and many more items on the options list. Even then, only those choosing a top-spec AMG-Line Premium Plus model are afforded the option of spending an additional £1,695 to add the safety equipment to the car.
Finally, an active bonnet - a pedestrian safety measure which detects an impact and raises bonnet to keep their heads from impacting the solid engine underneath - is only fitted to the AMG-Line Premium Plus or AMG performance models.
To the credit of Mercedes, the trim lines available on the GLC have been kept simple enough that even the least knowledgeable buyer could probably work things out.
It all starts with the AMG Line, a trim level that comes with 19-inch wheels, LED headlights, privacy glass, a reversing camera, heated leather-clad seats, triple-zone climate control, and that digital infotainment and navigation system built into a 10.25-inch touchscreen display. It’s all wrapped up in a sleek body festooned with sporty AMG touches, such as a front apron with air intakes, and a rear that looks like it has a race-car inspired aerodynamic diffuser.
Step up to the AMG Line Premium and you’ll find larger wheels, posher headlights, running boards (they’re not, given the few centimetres of width, but they add a rugged touch to the design), ambient interior lighting and a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster. The infotainment system also gains Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
The AMG Line Premium Plus gets a panoramic sunroof, a parking package with a 360-degree camera, electrically adjustable seats, keyless entry and go and an impressive Burmester sound system.
Things get more complicated when you opt for the more powerful models. The regular cars may be called AMG-Line, but it’s the Mercedes-AMG cars that have the real performance parts. Split into Premium, Premium Plus and Night Edition Premium Plus, these follow broadly the same lines as before, but with larger wheels.
If you want anything other than flat white, you’ll need to pay the paint tax. This starts at £685 for a bold metallic blue or a range of metallic grey colours, rising to £895 if you want it in red. Opt for the most expensive model, the AMG GLC 63 S, and you get the chance of spending another £1,495 for a matt grey.
The regular versions of the GLC SUV sits in a class dominated by German rivals but containing quite a few capable models from manufacturers from farther afield.
The obvious alternatives are the BMW X3 and Audi Q5. The X3 is one of the finest SUVs for drivers, providing a capable and rewarding chassis set up, with plenty of space, too. The Q5 aims at a more relaxed driver, while still offering as much room inside. Both are expensive, though, and neither is particularly attractive.
From Sweden comes the Volvo XC60, a more stylish option than anything else on this page that has a wonderful interior. Its engine range isn’t particularly economical nor particularly powerful though, and the ride can suffer on sportily trimmed models.
Visually striking, the Lexus NX majors on modern Japanese style, both inside and out, and combines that with exceptional build quality. Its hybrid powertrain is economical but, like the chassis and suspension, unexciting.
There is a lot to like about the Mercedes-Benz GLC, but there is also some very strong competition. Others offer a more engaging drive, and some are more practical, but the GLC majors on comfort and ambience rather than chasing numbers. Well, apart from the AMG versions, obviously.
It leaves the GLC straddling a no man’s land in the middle, but that’s no bad thing. Classic Mercedes styling cues team with the latest technology, a luxurious interior and strong economy options.
Unless you absolutely need something class-leading, the GLC gets close enough to keep most buyers happy.
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*Score based on Select’s unique meta score analysis, taking into account the UK’s top five leading independent car website reviews of the Mercedes Benz GLC
**Correct as of 11/01/2021. Based on 9 months initial payment, 5,000 miles over a 48 month lease. Initial payment equivalent to 9 monthly payments or £3,367.44 Ts and Cs apply. Credit is subject to status.